Independent community pharmacy network boosts vax rates

Small pharmacies are outpacing big corporate chains at delivering the COVID-19 vaccine, say commentators

Nearly 70% of COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed across the US have been delivered on average, according to federal data. However the amounts of doses actually administered vary from state to state.

Leading the way are West Virginia and Utah, which have administered 88% of doses as of 11 February, and New Mexico and North Dakota at 86%.

North Dakota and West Virginia are examples of states that have turned to independent, locally owned pharmacies to roll out the vaccine, says Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in The Washington Post.

“Small drugstores are prevalent in West Virginia, and in North Dakota they’re just about the only game around: A 1963 law mandates that only pharmacies owned by pharmacists may operate in the state (save for a few grandfathered CVS locations),” says Ms Mitchell.

“The vaccination results in West Virginia and North Dakota have prompted a wave of national news stories, noting how startling it is that two rural states relying on local drugstores — the epitome of the old-timey ‘mom and pop’ stereotype — have rocketed far ahead of states like Massachusetts and Virginia, with their networks of supposedly sophisticated chain pharmacies that have largely replaced the independents,” she said.

Small pharmacies in New Mexico have also gotten involved from the outset. KRQE reports that one small Albuquerque pharmacy has administered more than 5,000 vaccine doses to New Mexicans since late December. The state encouraged all New Mexico pharmacies to be enrolled as COVID-19 vaccine providers.

Utah selected Walmart and Smith’s/Kroger to receive the initial doses as part of this program. Additional pharmacy locations will be added as supply of vaccine increases.

Ms Mitchell pointed out that in late January, Oklahoma officials criticised CVS and Walgreens for sitting on more than 62,000 of the state’s allotted doses, and the state suspended allocations of more doses to them.

Meanwhile in Maine, with Walgreens reportedly lagging in vaccinations, officials have now begun transferring doses meant for the chains to local pharmacies instead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has heavily relied on pharmacies for the rollout of the vaccine nationally.

“Pharmacists are highly trusted and trained healthcare providers who have direct access to and knowledge of their patient populations,” says the CDC regarding its Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

“Pharmacists are trained to counsel patients, administer vaccine, and provide vaccine education, and pharmacies are readily accessible in communities – with most Americans living within five miles (eight kilometres) of a pharmacy.”

The CDC says the program will ultimately expand to include more than 40,000 pharmacies.

Senior national vice president of the Pharmacy Guild, Adjunct Professor Trent Twomey, who is also Secretary of the World Pharmacy Council, said the evidence is clear that independent community pharmacies are crucial to vaccination rollout.

“The World Pharmacy Council knows those international jurisdictions that have utilised the independent community pharmacy network have been able to achieve higher vaccination rates compared to jurisdictions that have not used the independent pharmacy market,” Prof Twomey told AJP.

“It was this exact evidence that the Guild was able to call upon in seeking amendments to the national COVID-19 vaccination strategy that, when first published, did not include community pharmacy as part of the rollout plan.

“Minister Hunt was receptive to the international evidence and he agreed with the Guild that in order to deliver the Morrison government’s commitment that all Australians who wish to be vaccinated will be vaccinated by October 2021, the government needed the community pharmacy network to be able to do that,” he said.

“Millions of Australians chose to utilise their local community pharmacy last year to access vaccination services for a variety of vaccines, so it is proven it is safe, effective and we’re here to do our part.”

Community pharmacies will become involved during phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Australia.

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